On Wednesday, June 21, a colleague and I were driving back to the office from a meeting in Corona, CA. On the 210 freeway, a billboard caught my eye as I sat somewhat quietly in the front passenger seat. It was a large ad for Rose Hills Memorial Cemetery, a well-known burial location and mortuary here in Southern California. The ad proclaimed, as does the top banner on their Website (www.rosehills.com), that Rose Hills Mortuary was “Voted America’s Best Cemetery.” … I could hardly contain my laughter. I turned to my colleague, who somewhat agreed with my next quandary – “Is that even ‘a thing?!?!’”
Keep in mind, I’m writing this only 3 weeks removed from losing my father suddenly and unexpectedly. There is no disrespect for the dead here. And maybe it’s just my sense of humor, but one would have to admit it sounds like a billboard you would see in the movie “Airplane.” Thoughts began to quickly enter my head, like what criteria could possibly be used? Do they have “all the best people” buried there, as our National Embarrassment might posit? Or could it be that they have the best looking mausoleums? Perhaps it’s the attractive cut of the trees and grass on the cemetery grounds? Th best funeral music? It all just seems silly to me. I GET that we want to rate all kinds of businesses using ratings and customer service oriented applications like Yelp and Angie’s list. It just never occurred to me cemeteries of all places would compete to be “the best.”
Rose Hills is also distinguished with a 2016 “ACE” Award, and yes – trying not to break here – stands for “American Cemetery Excellence.” The awarding body for this one? (oh, do my lungs hurt –) “American Cemetery & Cremation Magazine.” … because, of course there is one!
So naturally, I had to dig deeper. A simple Web search delivered to me the actual press release American Cemetery & Cremation Magazine (if I keep saying it will it sound normal?) put out about the award on January 4 of this year. Here are some nuggets from the release:
- “The award, presented by American Cemetery & Cremation Magazine, one of the leading publications serving the funeral and cemetery industry,”
Wait … there’s more than one publication dedicated to this field?!
- “The cemetery has been acclaimed nationally for its cultural diversity, its social responsibility and its community involvement, including a massive water reclamation project that began well before California’s drought crisis, and the effort to literally reshape itself to offer aesthetically and spiritually exceptional spaces for burial and remembrance within in the principles of Feng Shui, reflecting its growing Asian community.”
Hmmmm. Ok. That actually sounds pretty good. I’m getting a sense for a basis for a strong rating…
- “In addition to its spectacular grounds and exceptional family service, Rose Hills was cited for being at the digital forefront, developing multiple websites, specialized landing pages, Facebook pages and other key social media platforms that speak to its many different audiences in their respective languages and cultures. Most recently, the cemetery launched a light-hearted series of YouTube videos (“Short Takes”) that answer questions people often want to know about cemeteries and funerals…but were afraid to ask.”
Ok. Now I’m just feeling petty and stupid. I can now see how a place we associate with death and mourning has just as much to do with customer service, IT delivery, diverse audiences, and self-deprecating humor to reach those skeptical of the product as a department store or other small business. It looks like what was tickling my funny bone was, indeed, quite legitimate business and the desired positive ratings to go with them.
When my dad died a few weeks ago, I guess I didn’t think to Yelp or Google “best cremation centers,” or “best churches to host a service.” Our family plan led my mom to a brief list of preferred cremation providers, and it was a natural choice to hold memorial services for my dad at Messiah Lutheran Church in Yorba Linda (the O.C.), where my parents lived for 21 years and made that their church home for 15 or more years.
But what about for other families? Perhaps they seek a rating… look for awards … look for some sense for what cemetery and memorial park they can trust to work with to honor their lost relatives and loved ones? I started this little journey tickled that a cemetery, of all places, would advertise itself as “Voted America’s Best Cemetery.” Ultimately, though, I picture one of those episodes of Seinfeld where Jerry annoyance/nemesis “Kenny Bania” comes at Jerry insisting that a particular restaurant is “the best…. The BEST, Jerry!” Certainly, like most Kenny Bania’s out there, we would want our loved ones to lay to permanent rest at “America’s Best Cemetery.”
… 180 degrees. Mea culpa. Congratulations, Rose Hills!